Craig Murgo: Monster Energy Clash previews 500



Sunday’s Monster Energy Clash at Daytona served as a good preview for the upcoming Daytona 500.

The teams to beat should be the Penske Fords and the Gibbs Toyotas. Joey Logano scored the win, but it was Denny Hamlin who took the white flag. Brad Keselowski dominated the early portion of the race, but with 10 laps to go it was the four Gibbs cars nose to tail.

But the Clash left a lot of questions unanswered, or at least not answered satisfactorily.

The novelty race, run in a 25-lap segment followed by a 50-lap run, was open to any driver in the Chase last year, any driver who won a pole last year, or any driver who previously won a Daytona 500 pole. That accounted for everybody but Daniel Suarez, who fit none of those categories.

First we hear Suarez will replace Carl Edwards in the Gibbs 19, who announced he is “stepping away” from the sport. But why isn’t Clint Bowyer in the Clash? Tony Stewart was in the Chase in the 14 cars last year.

NASCAR said it had something to do with the fact that Stewart announced his retirement, whereas Edwards is not “officially” retired. It probably had more to do with Gibbs lobbying NASCAR because sponsor agreements were already signed that included the Clash before Edwards stepped away.

The NASCAR brain trust must not be accustomed to thinking on its feet. There were years past in which the previous year’s Xfinity champion had an invitation to run in the Clash. All they had to say was that Suarez was in the Clash because of his Xfinity championship last year. Instead we got some strange explanation that honestly makes no sense and was completely unfair to Bowyer. It would have been easy enough to allow Bowyer to run, as in years past both the drivers and the cars qualified.

It wasn’t a bad race, though it’s a shame it appeared very few people were there to see it. One reason for the low attendance may have been because the race was rain delayed from Saturday night and fans couldn’t afford the king’s ransom local hotels were asking. But it also may be the product.

Fox Sports replayed the 1993 Daytona 500 during the Clash rain delay. The cars were just as fast, but visibly much harder to drive. They weren’t glued to the ground. Just watching you could see the cars moving in the air. Today’s superspeedway cars are a lot easier to drive.

But even if they are easier to drive, it doesn’t mean they’re easy. With five laps to go it appeared the Gibbs cars were going to run off and hide. But then the Penske Fords of Keselowski and Logano, pushed by the Ford of Harvick, charged to the front and broke up the Gibbs train. At the white flag it was Hamlin-Keselowski-Logano, but when Hamlin chopped Keselowski off in Turn 2 it left Logano out front. At the checkered it was Logano, followed by Kyle Busch, Alex Bowman, Danica Patrick and Harvick. It was Logano’s first win in the Clash in nine starts, and the third win for car owner Roger Penske. Logano became the 22nd winner of the race in 39 years, and it was the 10th time a last-lap pass determined the finish.

And although not up front during the Clash, will Chevrolet surprise in the 500? After all, Chase Elliott and Dale Earnhardt Jr. make up the front row. We’ll get a better idea this evening when the twin qualifying races run as to what we can expect in the 500.  You can see them on Fox Sports.

The two-wheeled warriors of Supercross motorcycle racing battled in Minneapolis over the weekend. Joey Savatgy won the first 250 East race of the year on his Kawasaki. It was the fourth win of his career in his 27thstart. Last year Savatgy lost the 250 West title by one point to Cooper Webb.

Eli Tomac made it a Kawasaki sweep in Minneapolis by domination the 450 race. It was his third win of the season. He was followed by the KTMs of Marvin Musquin and Ryan Dungey. Dungey still holds the point lead as the series heads to Atlanta.

The Formula E series for electric open-wheel cars ran in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and Sebastian Buemi became the first driver to win the first three races on the season. In fact, it was the first time a driver has won three in a row in series history.

Veteran motorsports columnist Craig Murto is a Linden resident.